A man who glimpses other people’s inner worlds, and a woman who can foresee death. Can they trace a missing girl before the worst happens?
Harrison Jones is a university lecturer with a secret: he moonlights as a psychic detective. Amy Bell is a paramedic who has the uncanny knack of knowing things are going to happen before they do. From their first accidental meeting on an Edinburgh bridge, both of their lives are destined to change.
Harrison invites Amy to help him investigate the disappearance of a beautiful young singer. The search will lead them into the murky world of human trafficking, from Edinburgh to the streets of Athens, and into the darkest corners of the human mind…
Rebecca McKinney is a writer, therapist and community development practitioner, living and working in Midlothian, Scotland. She shares her home with her husband, two teenagers, three cats, and a growing collection of musical instruments.
The Angel in the Stone: shortlisted for the Highland Book Prize, 2017: Sandstone Press
The placid life of a college librarian is plunged into a desperate fight for survival when he witnesses the death of his only friend. Suddenly he is forced to confront disturbing changes in his nature and appetites and their consequences. Suspected of murder and pursued by an implacable police detective he runs – but is he running from the law or from himself?
After more than forty years of paid employment David Pollard retired to glorious Hereford and immersed himself in the theatrical activities of the county. He is currently Chair of Hereford County Drama Festival.
David sees himself as a teller of tales – he is a playwright, author of short stories and novels. He has a preference for dark and dystopian material. He is also an actor and theatrical director. Among the many authors admired by David is Robert Louis Stevenson – for his website David adopted the appellation Tuistala – Samoan for ‘Teller of Tales’ which the Samoan people called RLS.
Several of David’s plays have been published by Lazybee Scripts – one of which ‘Aspects of a Betrayal’ was shortlisted for the Kenneth Branagh prize at the Windsor Fringe Festival.
David has two works published on KDP/Amazon:
‘His Cat and Other Strange Tales’ – a collection of macabre short stories
‘TheAlienation of Ludovic Weiss’ – a psychological thriller
The third book ‘Mindworm ‘ is scheduled for publication in September 2020
When not writing, directing or acting David runs a podcast platform for the streaming of radio plays and short story readings – Hand to Mouth Sound Theatre.
For relaxation David reads voraciously with a liking for history and thriller fiction. He also enjoys country walks of the strolling variety.
Orla and Kate have been best friends forever. Together they’ve faced it all – be it Orla’s struggles as a new mother or Kate’s messy divorce. And whatever else happens in their lives, they can always look forward to their annual weekend away.
This year, they’re off to Lisbon: the perfect flat, the perfect view, the perfect itinerary. And what better way to kick things off in style than with the perfect night out?
But when Orla wakes up the next morning, Kate is gone. Brushed off by the police and with only a fuzzy memory of the night’s events, Orla is her friend’s only hope. As she frantically retraces their steps, Orla makes a series of shattering discoveries that threaten everything she holds dear. Because while Lisbon holds the secret of what happened that night, the truth may lie closer to home…
I received a copy of this book from Avon Books UK in return for an honest review.
The predictability of this story’s foundation makes it relatable, and when it all goes wrong so much more chilling. Orla and Kate best friends embark on a long-awaited weekend away. Orla, a new mum, is torn between rekindling her friendship and lost identity and staying home with the child she idolises. She goes and quickly gets into the weekend away vibe. Unfortunately, the next morning Kate is missing, and so is Orla’s recollection of the night before.
The story follows Orla trying to find Kate and what she uncovers along the way. There are lots of twists, plenty of smokescreens and unreliable characters. Who can she trust? The suspenseful, pacy plot engenders a sense of danger.
I like the dynamic between Orla and her unlikely hero. The ending is true to the psychological thriller genre, unexpected, unexplained and unsettling.
I received a copy of this book from Avon Books UK via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Intense and immersive, this psychological thriller is suspenseful and twisted. Told from dual points of view Felicity in the present and Jasmine in the past it reveals a shocking story of betrayal and horrific crime.
Felicity has anxiety and keeps secrets about her past from her husband and children. An incident in her hometown draws her into the past. Felicity is an unreliable protagonist. Jasmine is a young girl confused by her feelings. The dual stories twist as they gravitate together.
The pacing increases with the impact of the reveals. The similarities between the past and present increase the suspense and make the story claustrophobic in its intensity.
The final twists in the past and present unify the viewpoints in a climactic way.
Tia never harmed anyone. So why does someone want to destroy her?
Tia is walking home with her children, along the lakeside of their quiet, safe town, when she realises something is wrong with her five-year-old daughter, Rosie. She seems troubled, not at all her usual happy self.
But when Tia finally coaxes Rosie to open up, she wishes she hadn’t. Because her sweet daughter asks a question Tia never thought she’d hear.
‘Mummy, why did you kill someone?’
Tia knows how rumours spread around her small town. She just can’t understand who would have shared such a horrible story. Or why.
It can’t have anything to do with what happened. Only her two best friends really remember that…
Tia thought she could trust Fiona and Kelly with her life. They’ve been through so much together. But when she’s sent photos of herself that could tear her whole world apart, she starts to wonder. Someone is determined to punish her. But who? And will her friends stand by her, or will the past destroy all of their lives?
I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This fast-paced, multi-point of view psychological suspense breathes new life into a familiar scenario with plenty of twists and turns. Three school friends’ lives unravel years later. All have secrets, but who is targeting them and why?
All the main protagonists have elements of unreliability, who do you trust? The story is addictive and suspenseful and keeps its secrets until the dramatic conclusion.
I received a copy of this book from Orion Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
No one knows how they would react after a shocking event, Alice and Paul make a questionable decision when Alice kills an intruder but is this their first lie? This is fast-paced psychological suspense. It is told mainly from Alice and Paul’s viewpoints with periodic insight into the police investigation. Alice and Paul are unreliable protagonists. This increases the suspense and makes it difficult to trust their perceptions of events.
Like all psychological suspense, it seems unrealistic at times, but it is addictive and edgy. Sometimes shocking it keeps you engaged, until the last page.
After studying literature, linguistics and Spanish at university, AJ Park trained as an English teacher and actor. He has edited magazines and taught English, Media Studies and Drama in secondary schools in England. He was also a competitive fencer for seven years.
One woman’s quest for revenge unearths a fatal secret from her past.
Astrid Jensen holds one man responsible for her mother’s suicide, and she’ll do whatever’s necessary to get close to Daniel Holst and destroy his life – even if it means sleeping with him to gain his trust. Astrid knows he’s not who he pretends to be. But before she can reveal his dark secret, people from her mother’s past start turning up dead, and it looks like she and Daniel are next. In order to survive, she might have to put her trust in the man she has hated for so long.
Daniel Holst has worked hard to climb into Norway’s most elite and glamorous circles, and he’s not about to let any woman bring him down. But when a psychopathic killer starts murdering people from his shadowy past, he discovers that the only person who might be able to save him is the woman who wants to destroy him.
As Astrid digs deeper into her past, she uncovers secrets long buried and realizes everything she once believed is based on lies. What began as a quest to avenge her mother’s death becomes a desperate struggle for survival and leads to the truth about what happened one fatal night ten years ago—and the surprising mastermind behind the most recent murders.
Celeste has been running from her past for seven years. But now her past has found her.
For seven years, Celeste has battled her guilt and shame over the tragic events that led to her little brother’s death. But when her high-school boyfriend comes back into her life just as she gains a stalker, she wonders if there’s more to the story than she realized.
Celeste is determined to discover the truth – but she’s about to find out that when you play with fire, you get burned…
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus – Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This dark and twisty psychological thriller explores the effect of domestic crimes on the victim. Celeste’s past emotional trauma defines her. Cleverly written with a noir ethos and menacing undercurrents it is compelling reading.
The complex plot has many characters and differing timelines. The psychological detail is well- researched and adds to the story’s unpredictability. Its focus is on crimes that are difficult to read about it, but this element is vital to the plot and the action and motivations of the main character.
The story is rich in visual imagery that enhances the characters and events. It resonates and keeps you guessing right to the end.
Q&A with Claire S. Lewis- No Smoke Without Fire.
Thank you so much Jane, for inviting me to Q&A on your wonderful website and for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts in response to your fascinating and perceptive questions.
No Smoke Without Fire explores humanity’s darker side, how do achieve balance in your plot between noir and lighter moments?
You are so right that No Smoke Without Fire explores the darker side of humanity. At the core of the plot there’s a family tragedy and a rape that together propel the damaged protagonist, Celeste, on a journey that will not have a happy ending nor bring redemption to any of the characters. The novel touches on bleak themes of patriarchy and female oppression and explores ideas of victim shaming and the ways in which false, repressed and recovered memories can alter perceptions of morality and the truth. So, there are undoubtedly dark elements to the novel. But as you suggest in your question, I have tried to create a balance between noir and lighter moments. For example, death is ever-present, not least in the sense that Celeste’s online business venture (CelestialHeadstones.com) involves delivering memorial flowers to headstones in graveyards. On the other hand, she is a florist and the scenes in the florist shop, Seventh Heaven, provide opportunities for vivid colour and brightness which contrast with the mournful descriptions of cemeteries. Even on Celeste’s visits to graveyards, I have tried to give a contrast of shade and sunlight. Some of these take place at night, when ghostly shadows of the statues of black angels seem to trip her up. Others take place in glorious spring sunshine when her heart is lifted by the sights and sounds of nature bursting into bloom and teeming with new life. The relationships between the characters also provide a balance in the plot between noir and lighter moments – the opening scenes at a Cuban nightclub and scenes at Celeste’s flat where she enjoys flirtation and fun and light banter with her friends, contrasting with the darkness of oppressive and abusive encounters between Celeste and her father and teenage boyfriend in the flashback sections, for example, or the sinister scenes involving Celeste’s stalker. I have quite a visual imagination, and I find the use of colour very effective in creating this balance. In the opening nightclub scene and the florist scenes, I focus on the colour red – Celeste’s red dress, the red mood lighting on the dance floor, the vivid red of the Valentine roses – whereas black and grey tones help to create an atmosphere of melancholia or menace in other scenes. Settings can also be used to create light in the narrative, and I hope that the descriptions of the beautiful city of Cambridge and picturesque towns in the Surrey hills, have this effect in No Smoke Without Fire.
This story, falls into the noir crime genre, what are the positives of writing this type of literature? Are there any negatives?
Characteristics such as the presence of violence; complex characters, plotlines and timelines; mystery; moral ambiguity and ambivalence – these all come into play in the noir crime genre and can be found in No Smoke Without Fire. The positives of writing this kind of literature include the fact that characters are generally drawn in a way that is more nuanced, not two-dimensional, reflecting the real complexity of human relations in situations of conflict. The writer sets out the interplay between the characters without dictating moral judgements on their behaviour. Readers are left to ponder and come to their own conclusions – or not. Like crime in real life situations, in this genre there is no simple black and white clear-cut line between right and wrong or between the goodies and the baddies. Again, in the real world, many crimes are never fully solved or only become solved after many years of investigation. There may always be a lingering doubt about the justice of a conviction or an acquittal. Even where the jury reaches a conclusion on innocence or guilt, the ‘standard of proof’ for such a ruling is not 100 percent certainty – the prosecution must prove its case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. So fiction in the genre of crime noir which has the characteristic of moral ambiguity and allows the reader to ruminate on the rights and wrongs of the situations and the ‘truth’ or ‘integrity’ of the characters, is perhaps more interesting and a more authentic reflection of real life than stories which leave no room for doubt as to which character is the hero and which is the villain. I like the ‘smoke and mirrors’ aspect of the noir crime thriller in part because it feels truer to real life than the type of ‘whodunnit’ thriller in which all the loose ends are tied up neatly at the end. As for the negatives of writing in this style of fiction, one down-side may be that because the protagonists of noir fiction are a mix of good and bad, and a mix of selfish and altruistic motives etc, none of them are particularly likeable? Perhaps there are no heroes or champions or characters to engage or fall in love with? On the other hand, because the characters are nuanced and flawed this makes them in one sense more true-to-life and relatable.
You use flashbacks to give clues about the protagonist’s past, why do think this style of plotting works so well for psychological suspense?
I think the use of flashbacks is well suited to psychological suspense because it allows for the character to be gradually pieced together in a way which mirrors the way in which criminal trials gradually build up a picture of a defendant or of a crime scene by delving back into the past to gather evidence about a suspect and interviewing a number of witnesses. In the case of Celeste, I have portrayed her as a person who is very private about the tragedy in her past life when she was teenager and the sexual abuse that she suffered in the boathouse on the night that her little brother died. Seven years on, she has buried these traumas deep within her soul and she is trying to live a normal life as a single working young woman of twenty-four. If I had only the present timeline to tell the story it would be difficult to understand the reasons for which Celeste seeks revenge and for which CelestialHeadstones.com is so dear to her heart. The glimpses of Celeste’s backstory moving through her past allow me to gradually build up a picture of her troubled home life as a child (alcoholic mother, dysfunctional and aggressive father) and her sexually submissive relationship with Ben as a teenager, which helps the reader to understand the complexity of her character and perhaps to empathise with her behaviour and motivations in the main plot. The flashbacks also help to create the moral ambivalence that is characteristic of noir crime.
The plot has different timelines and an unreliable protagonist, do you plan your story in detail before writing? Can you give us an insight into your writing process?
I am not very good at planning which I find rather boring. I tend to launch straight in rather than plotting and mapping out scenes in detail before embarking on the writing. My starting point is a story idea – some situation or news item that sparks my interest and which I feel could be the basis of a good plot or the opening scene of a story but without really knowing how it will all play out. For No Smoke Without Fire (or ‘In Loving Memory’ as it was – in part ironically – called when I first thought up the idea and throughout the writing process) I did write a synopsis with an outline of the plot and an ending. As I write, I imagine the story spooling out like a film in my head and I think about what scene should be revealed next. My lack of planning does usually result in me having to do quite a bit of rearranging of chapters once I have more or less completed a first draft. In the case of No Smoke Without Fire for example, I did not write my backstory flashbacks in time order the first-time round. Instead I started with a date rape scene which was very central to the character development of Celeste. However, my editor advised that it was better to drop these backstory chunks into the main narrative in a chronological order as I already had a number of viewpoints and the lack of chronology in the flashbacks could be rather confusing for the reader.
Do you know how your story will end when you start to write? How easy is it to create an unexpected outcome for your characters? Have you any insights into the best way of creating a shock ending?
The ending I had in mind when I started to write the story is not the ending that made it to the final cut. The ending in my synopsis was inspired by my favourite Audrey Tatou French film ‘He Loves Me, He loves Me Not’, but I realised that in the novel form my planned ending would not work structurally and, moreover, I realised that the character of Celeste that I had written in the first half of the book was too sympathetic to allow for her transformation into an all-out psychopath as I had originally intended! When rethinking my ending, I wanted something that brought together all the characters in the novel as well as to some extent coming full circle to the opening page, whilst also being an unexpected outcome. I hope that the ending I have created is both a shock ending and one that will give pause for some reflection and pathos – but that’s for the readers and not for me to judge! As for insights into the best way of creating a shock ending – that is an interesting and difficult question. Obviously, the ending needs to follow naturally from what has gone before rather than being tacked on. Clues should be planted earlier in the story which once the shock ending has been delivered make the reader feel that there was a certain inevitability about it, so that on reflection the ending becomes believable as well as unexpected.
What surprises do you have instore for your next story?
My next story is also in the genre of psychological suspense and is set in post-pandemic north London and Tuscany. I am playing around with the idea of a ‘book-within-a-book’ along the lines of ‘Nocturnal Animals’. So, in addition to the uncertainty as to who did what, there will be an added uncertainty as to whether the secondary line of narration is intended to be true or imagined or a mixture of both.
Thank you again, Jane, for this lovely opportunity to take part in your Q&A!
Claire Simone Lewis studied philosophy, French literature and international relations at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge before starting her career in aviation law with a City law firm and later as an in-house lawyer at Virgin Atlantic Airways. More recently, she turned to writing psychological suspense, taking courses at the Faber Academy. She’s Mine is her first novel. Born in Paris, she’s bilingual and lives in Surrey with her family.
I received a copy of this book from Hodder and Stoughton via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Told entirely from Sam’s point of view this a psychological suspense novel that focuses on the darkness that hides within a person ready to strike given the right set of circumstances. Sam should be happy with life, but she isn’t. Her husband has let her down with his business failures. Sam’s worn out from fertility treatments, both financially and physically, even though it gave her Caleb, her much-cherished son. Now she’s the victim of a stalker too. A successful crime writer, she dismisses the letters at first, until they drag her back to her teenage and the darkness she left behind.
Sam is an unreliable protagonist. She is hard to empathise never seeing the best in anyone. As the stalker threats increase, so do the flashbacks to her last summer in Ilfracombe, and what happened. Is she losing her mind? Is someone manipulating her? It’s hard to tell despite the clues along the way.
This story gives a new interpretation of the teenage dare and danger theme. There are surprising plot twists with a dark and twisty ending that is chillingly believable.
Lucy V Hay is a script editor for film and an author of fiction and non-fiction. Publishing as LV Hay, Lucy’s debut crime novel, The Other Twin, is out now and has been featured in The Sun and Sunday Express Newspaper, plus Heatworld and Closer Magazine. Her second crime novel, Do No Harm, is an ebook bestseller. Her current title is Never Have I Ever, for Hodder Books.
A year and a half ago, Gemma met the love of her life, Danny. Since then, their relationship has been like something out of a dream. But one Friday evening, Gemma returns home to find Danny is nowhere to be seen.
After two days with no word from her husband, Gemma turns to the police. She is horrified with what she discovers – a serial killer is on the loose in Bristol. When she sees the photos of the victims she is even more stunned…the victims all look just like Danny.
But, the detectives aren’t convinced by Gemma’s story. Why has no one apart from Gemma seen or heard from Danny in weeks? Why is there barely a trace of him in their flat? Is she telling them the truth, or are there more secrets and lies in this marriage than meets the eye?
I received a copy of this book from One More Chapter in return for an honest review.
‘The Perfect Couple’, is an authentic fusion of unreliable protagonist and police procedural. Gemma is an unreliable protagonist, but easy to empathise. Her point of view makes the story immersive, as you experience all her unfiltered emotions.
The police detectives have an authentic team dynamic, and their complex characters add depth to the story. The setting and job roles are realistic and make the plot scenarios believable. Psychological suspense has unexpected twists, and this story doesn’t disappoint. The plot twists continue with underlying menace and building suspense as the story progresses to its adrenaline-fueled conclusion.
An intrinsic intelligence of journalism and crime investigation, make this story shine. Addictive and absorbing until the last sinister word.
Jackie Kabler was born in Coventry but spent much of her childhood in Ireland. She worked as a newspaper reporter and then a television news correspondent for twenty years, spending nearly a decade on GMTV followed by stints with ITN and BBC News. During that time, she covered major stories around the world including the Kosovo crisis, the impeachment of President Clinton, the Asian tsunami, famine in Ethiopia, the Soham murders and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Jackie now divides her time between crime writing and her job as a presenter on shopping channel QVC. She has a degree in zoology, runs long distances for fun and lives in Gloucestershire with her husband.